Wall Street might scoff at bitcoin as a currency, but it's very interested in the technology underpinning it.
In fact, Nasdaq is launching a pilot program to see if bitcoin-derived technology might help it track shares in private companies, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
This doesn't mean you should run out and convert your savings into cryptocurrency; Nasdaq is more interested in bitcoin's underlying ledger, the blockchain, than in any form of virtual money.
While bitcoin is a money substitute, what makes it work is a giant distributed ledger called the blockchain. Basically, using cryptography, some computers in the bitcoin network -- called miners -- keep track of everyone's bitcoins. It's this aspect of the protocol that Nasdaq is exploring.
“Utilizing the blockchain is a natural digital evolution for managing physical securities,” Nasdaq chief executive Robert Greifeld told the Wall Street Journal.
One way Nasdaq could accomplish that is to add an encrypted version of a share certificate into the text that accompanies a bitcoin transaction. One party could transfer the equivalent of a few cents in bitcoin to another, and when the transaction is official, the blockchain will have a permanent, independently verifiable record of the exchange.
Nasdaq is not going to start tracking the public markets using the Internet's favorite funny money -- yet. The blockchain pilot is starting in Nasdaq Private Market, a marketplace for trading shares of smaller, private companies before they've issued shares. Nasdaq says 75 companies have already signed up.
According to Marketwatch, the way pre-IPO holdings are currently managed is a hodgepodge, including lawyers keeping spreadsheets and some holdings tracked by hand.